Operation London Bridge | Sunday Observer

Operation London Bridge

25 September, 2022

“The monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, God save the Queen: when she loses, she votes down the Prime Minister.” – Winston Churchill

An estimated four billion people around the world experienced the funeral ceremonies of Queen Elizabeth II of England on television and through all types of other digital media platforms carrying the live transmissions.

Irrespective of one’s political ideology about monarchies it was a beautiful pageantry that entertained more than half of the world population costing millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money.

There were discussions in social media about some of the rituals performed during the process, indicating that they made the whole event looked very much like another episode of the ‘Harry Potter’ series.

‘Operation London Bridge’ was the code name given to the planning project of the Elizabeth II’s funeral and it has been in place since 1960s.

Elizabeth herself has been a key member of the planning committee of her own funeral. The plan has gone through several changes and has been rehearsed frequently over the years.

The tradition is to execute the plan right after the death occurs and not to let the public know about the death until everything is in place for the ceremony. Therefore, they used code names for the operation so that telephone operators and other employees of the palace wouldn’t leak the information.

The announcement to the relevant parties will go out as ‘London Bridge is down’. They still try to maintain those traditions combined with the expectations of the digital world where they made the announcement first in the royal website and through a twitter message while having the written notice displayed in front of the Buckingham Palace.

Though they use code names there is no element of secrecy in this information age. The process of planning the funeral of King Charles III has already begun under the code name ‘Operation Menai Bridge’.

As with any other funeral, the intentions of the attendees partly are to pay respect to the dead and mostly to be in good books of the living relatives of the person who died. In the case of Elizabeth’s funeral most of the invitees consider it as a privilege and honour to be invited and usually take the opportunity to fulfill their personal goals of witnessing the extravagance in person and to have a chance of meeting the successor.

There are conflicting views about spending such a big amount (estimated to be over £10 million) of public money for a funeral, despite the monarch’s personal fortune of hundreds of millions of pounds and also at a time when so many people in the country are struggling with the rising cost of living.

Die-hard royalists say it is money well spent since she deserves that after serving the country for seventy years, while anti-royalists are complaining against it. About two thousand guests were invited including about five hundred heads of state and other dignitaries.

Most, if not all, of those attendees use public funds of their respective countries for the trip to England with their spouses and supporting staff. Most of them do not fly in commercial airlines either.

These are the same people who fly into different places of the planet several times a year to discuss global warming and climate change under all types of different acronyms such as UN, G7, G20, OECD, and COP, burning hundreds of thousands of tons of jet fuel.

Among the attendees, there were leaders of countries that are in deep economic trouble experiencing hyperinflation, not even being able to find the next shipment of essential items such as food and fuel.

Yet, the traditions seemed to have played a more important role than saving money for their own countrymen.

It will be difficult for the youngsters in such countries to understand how adults can make such decisions when they have been asked to work from home and limit their education to online learning due to fuel crisis and lack of funding to provide hostel facilities and other necessities.

Some of the leaders who attended were from the countries that used to be colonies of the British Empire less than hundred years ago. Though they are not such colonies any longer the colonial mentality of the people in those countries may have made them feel the chance to be at such a funeral show as a lifetime achievement for them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin or any representatives from Iran and Myanmar have not been invited while the presidents of Ukraine and China have declined the invitation.

Royals put on shows like this, often using public funds, to reinstate the importance of their existence in people’s mind calling attention to history, mystery and grandeur of the monarch.

It is also helpful in establishing legitimacy to the new monarch which is even more important than appreciating the dead since the respect for royals is waning by the day.

Currently, there are over 40 monarchies including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Tuvalu all coming under the British monarch.

If one of the expected outcomes of pageantries such as royal weddings and funerals is to refresh the memory of the people about the historical importance of the monarch, then it will not be complete without reminding the people about the rest of the historical facts relevant to the monarchy.

British Empire

Britain began to expand its borders in the 16th century spreading its imperialism around the world. In the process they have killed hundreds of thousands of people including royals of other countries, such as Ceylon, and used all the resources of those countries for their own gains.

At its prime towards the late eighteenth century the British Empire covered almost a quarter of the surface of the planet and ruled over almost a half a billion people. Not only England but also there was other European nations trying to colonise as many countries as possible and the race was on.

People who lived on these lands were killed, robbed, and taken advantage of by the new settlers. Beliefs, traditions, and languages of indigenous people of those colonies were destroyed removing their cultural identities.

During the WW II the British took as much vital supplies as possible from India to support their troops causing one of the worst famines in Indian history that starved millions of Indians to death.

British slave traders were a major part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade which is known to have traded over twelve million Africans over four hundred years. Even after slavery was abolished the British Government paid compensation to the slave owners for the loss of their human ‘property’ but no compensation was ever paid to any descendent of the slaves.

These are just a few historical facts to go with the grandeur of the monarchy to stimulate the thinking of the people about the importance of the ‘Operation London Bridge’. Though the colonialism has ended on paper the subordinate mentality and behaviour of the people of previous colonies of the empire show that the neo-colonialism is very much alive even today.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fifteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected])